Imagine how you would feel if you had played golf for 30 years without a lot of success, and then one day you discovered a secret that led to some very startling results.
OK, so Tom Hays of Chandler is not quite ready for the PGA Tour just yet. Still, what he has done lately is, in his own words, “some pretty wild stuff.’’
“I’ve been playing for a long, long time — since I was 5 — and for most of my life, my expectations never have been that great,’’ admitted the 34-year-old Hays, who is a club-fitter at Hornacek’s House of Golf in north Scottsdale.
“I mean, I couldn’t even make my high school golf team when I went to Saguaro. I could shoot 40 (for nine holes) at McCormick Ranch, but that just didn’t cut it back then. And I played on and off on the team for the year I went to Mesa Community College. But that didn’t last long, because I didn’t like school. I just went there to play golf.’’
Obviously, Hays’ willpower and desire were strong, but the results were not. Until six weeks ago, when Hays just “tripped onto something’’ while hitting balls into the net at Hornacek’s. The big break came a week before the Arizona Amateur in late July, a tournament in which Hays went from being the last-place seed (he won a nine-way playoff for the 64th spot) to a semifinalist. Along the way, he beat the No. 1 seed and defending champ, Ben Kern, in his opening match before losing in the semis, 1-up, to the eventual champion, Jeff Berkshire.
Was it a fluke? Apparently not, as this week Hays shared medalist honors in the local qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur held at Talking Stick. Not only was his 4-under 66 a score he’s not all that familiar with — “I usually shoot around par or so, at best’’ — he also earned his way into a U.S. Golf Association national championship for the first time after trying to qualify “probably 15 to 20 times in the past.’’
So what’s the new mojo which has helped Hays perform his magic?
Something he got from Jim Flick, a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame.
“I fit his clubs; he gives me some instructional tips — and Jim had been trying to teach me to get the plane of the shaft more vertical to the butt of the club in my downswing,’’ noted Hays, who will play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., on Sept. 10-15.
“It’s really hard to explain. I’d have to show you. All I know is, all of a sudden, I’m hitting ‘ropes.’ . . . Like the 365-yard drive that reached the green on the first playoff hole at the Arizona Amateur.’’
Ah yes, long and straight is the perfect combination in golf. Then again, Hays always has been center-cut, according to his boss, John Hornacek.
“Tom is a great guy, and an excellent club-fitter. One of the best,’’ said Hornacek, the younger brother of former Suns player Jeff Hornacek.
“Is he a better club-fitter than golfer? Well, he was up until recently. Now, I guess he’s both. He’s playing well while still doing some work for tour players like Notah Begay, and a few of their caddies, like Jim Mackay.’’
Mackay, better known as “Bones,’’ is the caddie for Phil Mickelson, who came up big in Monday’s weather-delayed final round of the PGA Championship. That was right about the same time Hays was carving out his 66 at Talking Stick, which just like Lefty’s performance, included a clutch birdie at the 18th hole that tied Jeremy DeFelco of Tucson for top honors.
“I wasn’t even thinking about winning it,’’ Hays conceded. “I just wanted to get through it and actually qualify for a change.
“But that’s golf, I guess. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to score. At the same time, I’m living proof you can get better as you grow older.’’